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Posted on Wed. Jul. 16, 2014 - 12:01 am EDT

Survey shows support for downtown advocate's survival, growth and funding

Downtown Improvement District will end after 2015 if not renewed

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A new survey indicates most downtown property owners and residents like support the Downtown Improvement District and would be willing to contribute to its growth – if City Council allows the organization to continue past next year.

DID President Bill Brown says he's confident the study by Denver-based Centro Inc. will help make that happen.

“I think it does justify reauthorization,” Brown said Tuesday after Centro President Jamie Licko outlined for DID board members the results of recent meetings with more than 50 downtown property owners, city officials and more than 150 responses to questionnaires. The DID was created in 1995, reauthorized in 2005 and must receive another extension to operate in 2016 and beyond.

The survey's results, Licko agreed, more than support not only the DID's continued existence, but its growth.

When asked to grade the organization, 58 percent of respondents awarded it a “B: grade and another 32 percent an “A.” People like the services the DID currently provides – such as its “clean and green” program that picks up trash and controls graffiti – but believe it can and should do even more to promote downtown, Licko said.

In addition to promoting a comprehensive vision for downtown, respondents said they want the DID to help attract more shops and restaurants to the area, improve the “pedestrian experience” and to increase the number and diversity of events and activities.

All of that costs money, of course, and Licko and Brown indicated the DID may seek changes to make that possible.

The DID's annual budget of $557,000 primarily comes from two sources: $200,000 from city and county governments and $300,000 from the owners of downtown commercial properties – an assessment that is capped at that amount.

If the DID levied assessments based on the value of property, however, its revenues could increase over time, helping provide services to an area that is expected to continue to become more popular. The DID should also consider expanding its geographic footprint and assessing not-for-profit property owners and some residential properties.

The survey indicates support for that approach. Eighty-seven percent of residents said they would be willing to pay for DID services, while 54 percent of commercial property owners said they would be willing to support new or additional assessments in exchange for increased service.

Overall, 86 percent said they support the DID's reauthorization beyond 2015.

The survey indicated some problems as well, pointing out that people remain concerned about crime.

While that may be mostly a matter of perception, Licko said her own experience indicates the challenge – and a possible solution.

After arriving in Fort Wayne, she said, the lack of evening activity made her feel alone, she said. Increasing activity and light would help address that feeling of vulnerability, she added.

Brown said the organization will use the survey results when creating the reauthorization plan to be submitted to council next year.

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